Derawan, Indonesia February 2013

I made this trip in February during Chinese New Year, not an easy feat considering this to be a pretty important festive season in the family.  Really, really needed a good getaway.  On hindsight, the reason was totally illegitimate and uncalled for but definitely no regrets as I got to know some really cool friends on the trip.

The journey, as I now recalled was pretty daunting.  Singapore en route Balikpapan to Berau where a 3 hours ride await us followed by a 1 hour boat ride.  We spent almost a day traveling but it was well worth it as we  arrived at a quaint little dive resort late in the night.  Beautiful rooms w large verandah littered with bean bags, the perfect area to chill with friends after a good dive.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
In the night and the little surprise in the day

We woke up to a beautiful morning with the resort busy preparing food and loading up dive gears and tanks.  It had been a long time since I last saw such a clearly defined rainbow straddling across the clear blue sky.  Like most city dwellers, I took a deep breath, taking in the fresh morning air that is such a simple gift of nature yet has become so seemingly out of reach.  I love the salty sea breeze and on a vanity note, love the way it sets my hair gently flying behind my back. 🙂

Derawan diving, Indonesia
a beautiful day with a rainbow right across the morning sky

After a hearty breakfast and my morning coffee, I was all ready to go.  We were briefed about the ‘mild’ currents we were to expect and to get ready our reef hooks.  My first time using one so I guessed I didn’t have much of any idea what to expect.  Siva was my dive buddy and I had only met him once during a BBQ session organised by a common friend.  While this might really not count much as a current but for me  the 2 morning dives were definitely a wake up call.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
‘mild’.. with more to come
Derawan diving, Indonesia
found amidst the search for huge stuff…

Famished by lunch time and the food never tasted better.  I was never fussy about food in the first place, so food seasoned with holiday mood, and a good fin around could not really go bad.  As usual, I probably scare the guys off with my huge appetite and my love for rice. 🙂  or more specifically my love for carbohydrates, both in solid and liquid form 😉

I was looking forward to our next destination, Kakaban Island.  The main attraction is Kakaban lake which is in the midst of some high cliffs.  First we walked up the shore that had a really rocky bottom and it was ouch ouch for those without their flip flops.  Then the timber platform walkway and the steps that lead right up to the lake.  We were practically walking through a mangrove forest that surrounds the island. This wasn’t really a dive since no diving is allowed in the lake and only snorkeling was allowed.  I knew I might have some issues as I was never a good swimmer and to make things perhaps worse, I was insistent on bringing along my camera with its infamously heavy housing.  I thought I did pretty well and I managed some photos that I really liked.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
stingless jellyfish lake!!!
Derawan diving, Indonesia
steps and more steps…
Derawan diving, Indonesia
zero threat jellyfish galore

There were supposed to be many different species of jellyfish in the waters.  I didnt manage to see all but they were definitely many of these around.  For once, I was really chasing after jellyfish and so tempted to just bounce them off my palm.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
the reason why they need to sting :p

We were resting by the jump off platform when we saw this ‘plastic bag’ floating pass.  Guess what it was… another jellyfish and it was transparent.  Thanks to our dive guide who spotted it.  Most times, I really wonder how they could have such sharp eyes.

The last dive was an easy dive and everyone was pretty tired by now.  Surprisingly the dive was spotted with nudis, pretty slugs and we even managed to creep up to a sleeping shark under some reef plate.  These were some of my favourites.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
a sleeping shark and nudis

The day ended with sleepy divers on board and a beautiful sunset.  and yes, an introduction to my dive buddy Siva with his gang signs.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
a beautiful sunset to end the day

Heading back to our little chalet, I took a quick shower so my roommate Chloe could have her turn.  Much to my surprise, Siva was in the bathroom right next to me.  Communicating through the thin walls, it wasn’t long before we realised that others outside could hear us equally well on the outside and it sounded almost as though we were sharing a bathroom.  Oops, that was embarrassing. 🙁

Dinner was great and the group had a little chat session right outside my verandah.  Healthy dive talks peppered with politics.  One thing I learnt, never mix politics with alcohol. 😉

Another early morning as we get ready to go diving.  YIngkai was mentioning that we were training up for our big current dive so what we had gone through were merely really mild currents.  My guess was we were expecting pretty much the same current dives as what we had the day before.

Not too sure if we were getting used to the condition or otherwise but even with the current, I was pretty comfortable to simply drift along.  Hooking on was a lot more easier now as I was really getting the hang of it.  A rare moment when my buddy and I were hooked onto the same rock. 🙂  I guessed it was harder to make an argument about that underwater.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
sharing a rock

The second dive was great and we saw lots from big to small.  More important, we saw 2 manta rays.  One that was from afar and one that we managed to catch up with and came up close enough for me to take a shot.  Not the best photographer but always happy to capture a shot  of the big gentle creature.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
the uw creatures you never get tired of….
Derawan diving, Indonesia
Pretty little things
Derawan diving, Indonesia
big graceful rays

The afternoon dive was highlighted by the cuttlefish which was certainly not shy to ‘pose’ for photos.  We happily took turns and time to take photos.  Some nudis along the way too.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
sleeping cuttlefish and more

We ended the day with a short visit to the Sangalaki sanctuary and we were lucky to see some baby turtles which just hatched the day before.  They were to be released into the sea the very next day.  I had never seen them this tiny before and they looked really adorable, wobbling about with unsteady flippers.  Kind of tough to imagaine them swimming around in the sea at this size.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
tiny babies with wobbly ‘flipper’ steps

It had been a long day and I was really tired.  Our resort had unfortunately ran out of coke and I had a strong craving for my favourite drink.  The rest of the divers were going to go shopping in the village but I decided to give myself some alone time before I get all cranky at everyone.  I took my time to shower and roamed about the village on my own.  Really not sure if it was because I came from the city, I really envied the villagers.  Always felt they have a life that is more of one than mine.  A simple life in which you toiled the land and fish for food on the table and sit by the beach in the evenings watching the children play.  They have something which I do not have… contentment…  A really beautiful village.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
Against the evening lights
Derawan diving, Indonesia
alleyways and streetside scenes
Derawan diving, Indonesia
Village jetty

By the third day, waking up early for another full day of diving had become a routine.  I was still excited to go get wet and see some cool stuff.  And today we were supposed to have our highlight dive, the Channel.  That will end the day.

Small little beauties greeted us during our morning dive.  I guessed straining the eyes a little probably is a good wake up call.  My camera was not exactly the best for tiny stuff like such so I could only try my best to stay in focus.

do we call them all pigmy …?
and more of these little beauties
Derawan diving, Indonesia
just fooling around…

The next dive was marked by turtles. The first was just minding his own business and we crept up to it every so slowly.  The group were all behind the turtle and I decided to creep up from the front.  I could see their bubbles from where I was and I was hoping that it wouldn’t swim away upon seeing me.  I guessed I was in a really good position and was able to take some real closeups.  We had another or two smaller turtles throughout the dive.

Derawan diving, Indonesia
As he lays quietly …

We had lunch and what followed was an eventful afternoon.  The boat was stuck as the tide was too low and we were hitting corals on the bottom.  Some of us had to get out to lighten the load and eventually ended up pulling the boat along.  An amazing sight and it was with the help of 2 amazingly strong girls, Ruth and Sara, that we got out and was able to head to our designated dive spot.

It was by no coincidence that I had no photos of this dive.  On the boat, we were assigned 2 to 1 divemaster.  The brief went that we were to do a negative entry and wait around 5 metres depth.  All seem well initially and we were heading down towards our 25metres mark.  It was touch finning against an updraft and once I saw my DM hooked on with his reef hook, I passed him mine just so to stay together.  By now, I was holding on pretty tightly to the rocks.  My camera was getting a good knock around and I kind of knew there and then it was going to be of much use in this dive.  My buddy had unfortunately disappeared by this time and my DM decided to keep me hooked on while he attempted to go back for him.

Hooked on, I was watching the rest of the divers go past right before my eyes.  They were all hooked up on lower grounds than me.  While one of the other DM kept waving for me to join them, I was having difficulty removing my reef hook.  The current was getting stronger by the minute and I had to hold on to both my regulator and my mask.  It took a while before I finally freed myself.  I wouldn’t say I finned downwards, it was more of a climb all the way to the guys.  Oh yes, we did see a school of barracudas of by but I wasn’t even trying to bring on my camera.  We crawled our way up following our DM.  I was freaking out a little as I was low on air.  Ruth and Sara were also with us.  Our DM and me lost grip and we literally tumbled all the way up.  I finally knew how it felt like to be in a washing machine.  I was sharing air with one of the girls and I thought they were pretty worried about me.  It was a bit of a spin but I was really alright. 🙂

We were the first group back on the boat.  It was interesting to see everyone popping up at different locations and in thoroughly different buddy groups.  Once on board, everyone had their own stories.  It was an incredible dive and for those who didn’t manage to go all the way to 25metres, they were all looking to come back to this dive again real soon.  In a subsequent trip, of course.

I had a good sleep that night and was definitely looking forward to much more relaxing dives the next day.

Our last day of diving and as promised, we took it easy and I was happy to see the usual pretty stuff.

pretty little things

Soon it was time to head home again…. another long journey on the road back home…  It had been a good dive trip with a fun group of divers.  I am definitely looking forward to my next trip.